Is it bad to admit that I am one of those librarians that love weeding? That I actually get pleasure from removing books from the shelves, and that I might even be slightly addicted to that rush I get when I can open up a whole foot of shelf space? Yeah, it might be a little bit bad. I think I’ll have to submit this confession to Librarian Shaming.
This also might be bad timing for me to admit this, seeing as how several libraries have gotten a lot of flak from their communities this year about weeding projects gone bad. You can read about the disaster at the Urbana Free Library in Illinois that I found quite shocking.
But seriously, I think most librarians have more angst and hesitation about weeding than I do. As a librarian and as a person who has always loved books, I shouldn’t love getting rid of them, should I? Well, the truth is, I kind of do. And I’m not alone. And here’s why.
When I started my current position, nothing had been weeded in the Children’s Room for at least a couple years. Several years ago my system had plans to build a new building. But then the recession happened and crushed that dream along with so many others. So we are stuck with the Children’s Room we have had for fifty years and no room to expand. Which, yes, I love my children’s room and do the best with what we have, but wouldn’t a new building have been nice?
Anyway, our shelves were a tight, tight mess, and a lot of them still are. I’m talking we can’t use bookends, we have to put books on the tops of the shelves, sometimes you can’t even pull a book out because it’s so TIGHT! So when I started here, I was like, we need to get this under control, stat. Of course, it’s been over a year and it’s still an ongoing process. But the state of our shelves was not serving our patrons.
When a book is jammed on the shelf so tight a patron can’t even pull it off the shelf, that is not making an attractive browsing situation for our patrons. When our nice, shiny new picture books are mixed in with copies of old, outdated, ratty looking books, that is not serving our patrons. When a student is looking for a research for a paper on AIDS and the only book checked in is twenty years old, that is not serving our patrons. So yes, I have fully embraced weeding and now I love it because it makes our collection better for our patrons.
And don’t even get me started on the state of our young adult paperbacks. There were paperbacks in there from the 70s! That was forty years ago! Some of our teen’s parents weren’t even born yet (maybe). But yes, most teens do not want to read a forty year old science fiction novel with brittle yellow pages and a faded retro looking cover. I did find some quite shocking books when I went through the paperbacks.
Yes, there are the occasional books I remember from my childhood that can be hard to part with, or books that have received awards or are by well-known authors or are “important” books that we will generally keep. But I follow the guidelines in the CREW Weeding Handbook pretty strictly. If it’s fiction and it has not been checked out in two years, it is likely going to be weeded to make room for something new. If it is nonfiction and over ten years old or not circulating, I will evaluate that too. And if the book is just plain falling apart, well that’s an easy one.
The one struggle with weeding can be that it we have come across many, many books that need to be replaced, either ones that are falling apart and we want to keep, or we need updated books on a certain topic, and we have to find room in the budget for that. But one of the other things I love about weeding is that, thanks to our Friends of the Library group, every book we weed is also a chance for our Friends to sell it in their booksale and be able to support awesome programs like Summer Reading prizes or a Minecraft Club.
So that is why, every time we send a cart of weeding down to our Friends group I fill a little bit of a thrill. And every time I look at our shelves and see the spines of our newer titles all lined up with breathing room at the end, I smile a little to myself and start weeding away on the next shelf.